When I was young, I left the Motor City for a city that I would never have to drive in again. Years later, so did my sister.
Television commercials made the relationship between cars and humans look like a romance, but from a kid’s perspective, it looked like an abusive relationship.
Automobiles had a way of breaking down when you needed them most, taking large amounts of your money without warning, and attracting unwelcome attention from law enforcement officers. Little in the movie 8-Mile feels like a genuine depiction of Detroit life, but one thing feels accurate: the way that no one’s car will start.
I moved to San Francisco. My sister moved to Portland. I love San Francisco, the way that you do, but whenever I visit my sister I cannot help noticing that — as far as gracious, car-free living goes — she made the better choice.
When I visit her, I don’t have to look at every car that I pass and gauge the risk of being doored, because, in a lot of places, the bike lane is wide enough for both me and an open car door.
I rarely have to merge into car traffic and route myself around someone who has double-parked in the middle of a bike lane, because some traffic engineer has thoughtfully placed a barrier between car and bike traffic.
All is not perfect; my sister still got doored last winter. But Portland had zero bike deaths last year (and many years before it), which is more than you can say about San Francisco.
How did this come to pass? While Portland has a reputation for being the most uber-millennial of millennial cities, it’s not that different from your average American college town.
Bicycling in cities has been on the rise for years now; what made Portland so ready for it, when bicyclists in other cities have had to struggle? I did some digging, and came up with a few theories.